Organizations interested in staying ahead of the curve are seeking transformative change. How can design innovation continue at its rapid pace without leaving end users behind?

Business as usual is not an option in today’s highly competitive markets. New technology-induced business models are constantly challenging and often overtaking older, established, and often antiquated ones. This trend appears again and again—from energy giants to small law practices; from tech to higher education. Organizations are radically shifting their corporate mindset and recognizing the value and the necessity of working in new ways.

Workplace solutions play a key role in fulfilling this change imperative, but they cannot succeed in a vacuum. They depend upon leadership alignment at the outset and throughout the project, thoughtful user engagement of managers and staff as the project develops, and launch activities for the entire workforce after move-in to ensure processes and behaviors are adopted. The best workplace strategies fall flat if they never have a life beyond boardroom presentations. That is why change management is crucial to the success of today’s workplace solutions.

Engagement activities are rarely addressed solely by architecture project teams beyond traditional programming exercises, yet they are vital to a project’s success when people are expected to drastically change the ways they work and adapt to new processes and technologies. Change management naturally integrates into the workplace design and architecture process. It deepens strategy, provides clear goals and a path toward them, pushes design to perform, and prepares workers for the transformative change their new workplace will bring. It allows design and architecture projects to be the catalyst for comprehensive workplace strategies that bring business goals, human resources, technology, and real estate portfolios into alignment. It gives design the power to drive human performance.

Leading a Merger, Challenging Norms
PDR developed change management consulting services out of necessity in the early part of the new millennium. We were managing the workplace transitions for several high-profile mergers between energy companies including Exxon and Mobil, Conoco and Phillips 66, and BP and Amoco. We quickly realized how the scope and scale of the changes ahead would impact the people working at these companies. Their ability to adapt to change could challenge the success of our workplace solutions, as well as our clients’ return on investment. We knew worker behaviors had to shift and align in order for our clients’ new workplaces to thrive. That realization was the start of our integrated approach as designers, architects, and consultants—folding change management into the design process.

In one example, we were leading the Herculean transformation of global workplaces for a merger between two Fortune 50 energy companies. Our Phase 1 goal, driven by pressures from Wall Street, was to quickly co-locate the organizations of the two entities—a logistical feat of moving 7500 people in 10 weeks. Phase 2 focused on revolutionizing their business performance, and included numerous international workplace design and architecture projects over the next three years.

During this time, PDR challenged our client’s historically conservative views of a workplace’s value to the company and its workers. We knew the project scope and impact was much broader than design and architecture alone. We needed to incorporate every aspect of our client’s business and engage their people along the way to make their new work environments perform at peak.

“The merger was a huge, high-stakes transition. Our client needed their new population of workers to reorient themselves, find alignment, and to do their best work—together. Business performance was tied to workplace performance and its ability to unleash human potential. We quickly realized the success of our new workplace solutions hinged on the ability of end users to adopt new ways of working. Incorporating change management into our design process ensured everyone received the training and support they needed.”
– Kelly Baughman, Principal, PDR

At the time, our workplace solutions introduced a major shift from how the people of both pre-merger Fortune 50 energy companies were accustomed to working. Glass front offices introduced transparency, new teaming environments increased opportunities for flexible project-based work, and a mixture of more open and fewer closed workspaces encouraged informal collaboration. We advised our client that without thoughtful instruction and encouragement from the top down, the new spaces and technologies would not reach their full return on investment. Fully aware of the potential for disconnect between their people and the new workplace environments, PDR was engaged for change management consulting in addition to our workplace design and architecture services.

PDR’s change management approach addressed leadership first. Tier one engagements with senior leaders helped identify and develop the required behavior changes their people needed to adopt for their new work environments to be successful. Tier two, management-level communications provided an immediate and thorough understanding of the tactical tools and processes necessary to incite and support the desired behavior shifts.

Select enterprise-wide end user engagement activities were also offered during key moments in the projects’ durations. These included surveys; furniture, technology, and space-type mock ups; interactive displays of material selections; and townhall meetings. These engagements provided a measured release of information about the changes ahead, and they welcomed the worker population into the transition process. Their questions were addressed and answered. Their confusion became awareness. Some anxiety always remained, as is inevitable with big changes, but genuine excitement and positivity about the projects was also created.

In the years since the original merger, PDR has advised this client through even more extensive workplace design and business transformations. In 2014 theybegan occupying a new world-class campus which consolidated their businesses for even higher levels of synergy and success. We at PDR have continued to encourage our clients to engage in effective internal communications to help manage all types of workplace and business transitions.

Holistic Approach, Design Outcome, Business Success
Organizations large and small are seeing the value in a more holistic, transparent, and human-centric approach to architectural endeavors. Change management programs complement workplace design and architecture in ways that amplify the positive impact built projects have on the workforce. Engaged workers are less fearful of the changes ahead. During the transformation, work is minimally disrupted and the speed of adopting new ways of working is increased. Values and behaviors are brought into alignment. Space is used as it is intended. Most importantly, though, the workers are empowered. In the end the project is their project. The space is their tool. Their work is fully supported from strategy to design to the hum of daily operations.

Lauri Goodman Lampson lives at the intersection of business and design in her role as Principal and President of PDR.

Excerpted from DesignIntelligence Quarterly 3Q 2017.